Are you afraid of shadow work?

Plodding through shadow is something that comes so naturally to me that I forget that it can be intimidating for people.

“Shadow Work” has become a trendy term lately. While I appreciate that more people are interested in self improvement, it seems there are a lot of misconceptions about what shadow work even is.

Carl Jung described the “shadow self” as the repressed, hidden aspects that lie in our unconscious minds. The term “shadow” means it is not touched by the light of conscious awareness. The popular emphasis on darkness has perpetuated the notion that what lies in shadow is somehow evil or scary, but this is a naive perspective that creates unnecessary fear around doing shadow work.

Of course, we all repress aspects of self that our conditioning has deemed inappropriate or wrong. These are things we may fear to admit or confront, things that evoke a sense of shame. It’s important to understand that these things do not make us bad. Fear of negative judgment and deeply ingrained beliefs about what’s “acceptable” make it seem that way. While it can feel uncomfortable to unearth and own these aspects, doing so is incredibly healing and liberating.

Furthermore, what lies in shadow is not all depraved, morally questionable, shameful, negative or “dark” tendencies. It’s not just the stuff we consider bad or gross. Often, many positive qualities, much strength and power are repressed.

The shadow holds anything we deeply (unconsciously) fear to express.

Beginning in childhood, we discover what is considered acceptable or unacceptable according to the external environment which is dictated by our families and culture. As social creatures who inherently seek a sense of belonging, we adapt by tucking away the impulses, desires, behaviors and traits that will meet disapproval. These things retreat to the shadow.

There seems to be a common belief that if you don’t unearth what lies in the unconscious, it won’t affect you. We often experience disturbances such as mood disruptions, impulsive behavior, physical illness, anxiety, or depression because we are denying aspects of self that we need to integrate in order to feel peaceful, healthy, and whole.

In our society, the emphasis is on seeking fulfillment externally. While we sense lack, we fail to recognize that what will fill that void lies buried within. Instead, we search for it outside of ourselves through relationships, accomplishments, physical environment, or wealth. While these things can bring temporary satisfaction, and may even help us to realize some things about ourselves we weren’t previously aware of, it’s not until you do the work of exploring the hidden places inside of you that truly feel at peace.

How is this done?

There’s no single way to do shadow work. It happens organically when you’re confronted by a struggle of some kind. Hardship and challenges are invitations to dig deeper and excavate the hidden influences that exacerbate your suffering. Of course, this requires emotional effort and the courage to get to know yourself better.

Most any counseling is shadow work. Traditional talk therapy often gets stuck in the realm of consciousness–this is when you keep rehashing the things that bother you but fail to move past them or find resolution. Therapies that tap into the unconscious help bring hidden influences to light. These include (but are not limited to) EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, Hakomi Method, Brainspotting, and IFS. Shamanic healing, hypnotherapy, psychedelics and other less traditional healing practices are also forms of shadow work.

The objective of shadow work is to make the unconscious conscious.

Another common misconception is that if you do shadow work you won’t be able to handle what you discover. This is rooted in a lack of confidence and self trust. The truth is, there’s nothing in your shadow that you can’t handle or that you haven’t already been dealing with unconsciously. Shadow work helps you grow the self love and trust you need to feel confident in your ability to handle whatever life throws at you.

Personally, my first deep dive into shadow work came unintentionally through experimentation with psychedelics. Nothing like a bad trip to force you to confront your demons! I’ve always been a deep thinker and big feeler. I have a naturally melancholic nature which can easily slip into depression and I’ve suffered severe anxiety. I’ve intuitively always known that I have to dive deep to find relief. This has not been a linear or simple process. I struggled with an eating disorder, suicidal ideation, codependency, and rage. I’ve been in and out of therapy. What finally set me on a path of real progress was a combination of spiritual development, shamanic healing, and IFS therapy. My own education and healing journey is now filtered lovingly into my service to others.

Guiding people in the process of exploring, excavating and integrating what lies in shadow is my passion.

In conclusion, shadow work is not something to fear. It leads to expanded self love and self acceptance. It helps relieve distress such as anxiety, depression and even physical ailments. It supports creative expression and healthy relationships. It heals your soul, bringing a sustained sense of peace. I welcome you to take the journey with me.

With Love & Compassion,

Adina Arden Cooper

I'm a lover, a guide, a supportive companion. A storyteller, an artist, an ally and an advocate. I help individuals thrive and communities come together through counseling, coaching, and community building. I believe that shared humanity is a powerful strength and that our stories connect us in beautiful and sacred ways. As I stumble, skip, or soar my way through this life, I invite you to join me on the journey. Likewise, I'm honored to travel with you. In witnessing one another, we find meaning.